The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Villanova forward Curtis Sumpter (left) blocks a shot by Penn guard Tim Begley. Sumpter had 18 points for the Wildcats.[Ryan Jones/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

Mike Nardi showed he has it all.

Villanova coach Jay Wright must thank his lucky stars every night when he goes to sleep that he managed to secure the talented point guard from North Jersey.

Nardi has the no-look pass.

He has the speed to blow past any of his defenders.

He has a sixth sense that propels him to guide his team, whether in the transition, on defense or on offense.

Most importantly, he has that scrappy intangible that elevates him above the rest of the players on the court.

Last night, the freshman wasn't the only factor that led to a decisive 73-63 Villanova victory, but he sure seemed like it at times -- particularly in the waning minutes of the first half, as the Wildcats surged to a dominant lead.

It's less obvious than the numbers might indicate (although they do a pretty good job). Sure, Nardi led the game in scoring with 20 points. He also added four assists, two rebounds and a steal. However, it wasn't just that Nardi had the poise to sink crucial jumpers - his enthusiasm and energy were his most vicious assets.

The difference was in leadership something the Wildcats' tireless freshman managed to display, while Penn's veteran players just quietly looked on.

"He's a freshman but he plays like a leader, he's always been that way," Penn freshman Ibby Jaaber said after the game. Having played against Nardi throughout high school, the floor general's antics were nothing new to watch. "He always takes the lead role, and just lets the team follow him.

"You watch him play, he's confident in his own game."

Confidence a key word used to describe Nardi. Also, perhaps Penn's lack of confidence is what ultimately shut the Quakers down.

Villanova came out with a game plan of pressure. The Wildcats wanted to be in Schiffner's face every time he received the ball near the perimeter. They wanted arms raised on the inside.

And it absolutely worked. Less than five minutes into the game, the Quakers appeared timid and hesitant, to say the least.

Just when the Red and Blue needed a little Nardi of their own, the team's supposed leaders were nowhere to be found. Penn's five starters could hardly penetrate the ball past half court, let alone inside the key.

Penn senior center Adam Chubb only mustered four points in the first half. What's worse? He was the Quakers' leading scorer along with Eric Heil off the bench heading into the locker room. Senior guard Jeff Schiffner contributed a measly two points and junior guard Tim Begley only added three.

The closest Penn came to Nardi's style of play occurred well into the first half, when Penn coach Fran Dunphy finally pulled a few players off the bench.

In the first half, Heil penetrated the inside and came with the determination that was lacking in both Chubb and junior forward Jan Fikiel. Heil finished the night with six points and a team-leading six rebounds.

"He adds athleticism, he can make perimeter shots," Dunphy said. "He's tried to do better on his post position game as well, so he's been a great addition."

Jaaber came off the bench with a reckless enthusiasm on defense that no other Penn player could match. He, better than anyone else on the night, did his best to contain Nardi's astonishing quickness. Jaaber only added four points in the loss, but managed to snag five rebounds and two assists.

Although the boost from the bench is always appreciated, it was unfortunate that a fiery intensity could only be found from substitutions.

It's too bad that the only person who really seemed fired up to win happened to be dressed in Blue and White.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.